Monthly Archives: July 2012

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Horizontal gene transfer has the Rafflesia potentially using the host’s information against it

They’re a member of a group that includes some of the world’s best thieves. They’re so good at stealing that they don’t make or produce food for themselves.

And, to top it off, like the high school students who rule the school because they are the tallest, most attractive or most athletic, they are physically stunning. Known in the scientific community as Rafflesia cantleyi, they have some of the world’s largest flowers, spanning as much as two feet across.

Found in Malaysia and named after a 19th century curator of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, the Rafflesia doesn’t have chlorophyll, the critical green molecule that allows plants to turn light, carbon dioxide and water into food. Instead, it lives deep inside the host vine, Tetrastigma rafflesia, a member of the grape family.

But that, it turns out, is not the only thing the parasitic plant pilfers. Recent research from Stony Brook assistant professor Joshua Rest, in collaboration with Harvard Professor Charles Davis, suggests Rafflesia has somehow taken something surprising: 49 genes from the Tetrastigma.

While bacteria and viruses take genes wherever they find them and attach them to their own set of life blueprints, it is much more unusual for plants to take genetic material, much less a region this large, from another plant. That means the Rafflesia is not only invading the space and food of the Tetrastigma plant, but it is also grabbing some of the plant’s hard-earned genetic identity.

When he first examined the genetic sequence of the Rafflesia, Rest was so stunned, he wondered whether he might have “just contaminated something,” by mixing the genes of the two plants.

Careful analysis, however, confirmed it was not the researchers who mixed the genes, but rather the plant that had gone through a process called horizontal gene transfer. Unlike vertical gene transfer, where individuals get their genes from their parents, in horizontal gene transfer, an individual can acquire its code from something outside its genetic tree.

“It definitely turns the way we think about things a bit on its head,” acknowledged Rest.

This discovery is new enough that scientists like Rest and Davis can only begin to guess at what advantage the Rafflesia gets from copying the genes of its host. One plausible explanation is that the parasite weakens the grape plant’s ability to defend itself against its unwelcome guest. The copied genes might send a signal to the host plant that disguises the parasite, allowing it to live like a disguised but sated wolf among sheep.
Rest cautioned that scientists don’t understand how the gene transfer affects the ongoing battle.

“We don’t know that there’s any cost” to the grape plant, Rest offered. “To whatever extent the transfer makes the parasites better at what they do, it could make the [grape] vines worse off.”

While the copied genes may protect the parasite against an immune response, they are also a part of other activities, including metabolism and respiration.

“They are involved in different cellular functions,” he explained. “We were expecting maybe we would find genes that were just involved in the immune response.”

To be sure, the notion of combining different genes to form a new organism isn’t unique, even in the world of eukaryotes. In fact, because the DNA from mitochondria and chloroplasts are different, scientists believe that, at one point, these organelles existed separate from each other, and proto-eukaryotic cells enveloped them. The parasitic gene copying is “on a much smaller scale,” Rest assured.

Given the range of parasites, it’s likely that others besides the Rafflesia have taken more than just food, sunlight or structural support at the expense of their hosts.

“Nature is a big place, so it’s unlikely that this mechanism is unique,” Rest suggested.

When he’s not looking closely at the genes of plant parasites, Rest, a native of the Chicago area, enjoys the chance to explore nature on Long Island, where he likes to run and hike in parks along the North and South Shore.

Rest lives in Bellmore with his husband Scott Stuart, a music therapist who works in a nursing home.

As for his work, Rest is fascinated by the implications of the range of what Rafflesia takes from its grape vine.

“The parasite,” he explained, “is potentially using the host information against it.”

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Weight loss and dietary changes have resounding effects on symptoms

Menopause is a physiologic process that affects all women, not a pathologic or disease-based one. The problem is that vasomotor symptoms, such as hot flashes, flushes and night sweats, can have an adverse effect on most women who are perimenopausal (around menopause) or postmenopausal. Approximately 80 percent of women report having these symptoms, with half experiencing moderate to severe symptoms.

Symptoms last, on average, between one and five years, though they may persist longer than a decade. Unfortunately, many women suffer through them without treatment.

According to a recent study, there are also increased cardiovascular risks in women who experience early menopause, occurring before the age of 46. Early menopause increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes twofold. The authors suggest the best way to lower risk may be to follow general preventive measures for reducing the risk of heart disease (Menopause. online June 11, 2012).

Are there viable treatment options to alleviate menopausal symptoms? The answer is yes, and we will look at some of these options including lifestyle modifications, hormone therapy and soy products.

Lifestyle modifications

In the Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification Trial, a large, randomized trial, the combination of weight loss and diet played a significant role in reducing or eliminating vasomotor symptoms in 90 percent of menopausal women (Menopause. online July 9, 2012).

When women lost more than 10 percent of their body weight, they were 56 percent more likely to eliminate vasomotor symptoms when compared to women who were in the control group and did not lose weight. This is impressive, but the results get even better. When dietary modifications were combined with greater than 10 percent weight loss, nearly nine out of 10 women saw an elimination of symptoms.

The design of the trial involved a low-fat diet with 20 percent of calories from fat, plus five servings of fruits and vegetables and an increase in fiber from whole grains to six servings daily.

This diet made it more than three times as likely that women would lose weight compared to the control group. The study involved over 17,000 women who were not on hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms. Thus, the results were purely due to weight loss and dietary changes.

Hormone therapy

Hormone therapy has been a hotly debated topic in recent years. The Women’s Health Initiative is one of the trials that prompted this debate, with unexpectedly negative results showing increased risk of stroke, heart attack, deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. However, there may be more to the story. This has to do with timing, personal history and dosage.

In a consensus statement by 15 medical organizations, short-term hormone therapy is thought to be safe for the treatment of vasomotor symptoms, depending on the woman’s health history, age and when menopause commenced (Menopause. online July 9, 2012).

Of note, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists was not part of this consensus statement. Patients need to make an informed decision with their OB/GYN to determine if the benefits outweigh the risks on an individualized basis. For healthy women younger than 59 or within 10 years of the beginning of moderate-to-severe vasomotor symptoms, low-dose hormone therapy may be appropriate.

In March, the FDA approved a combination low-dose hormone therapy of 0.25 mg progestin and 0.50 mg estrogen called drospirenone/estradiol ( for the treatment of hot flashes and night sweats. It reduced the frequency by two episodes a day at four weeks and by three episodes a day by 12 weeks. However, there are side effects, and it is contraindicated in several circumstances, the most severe being increased risk of stroke. Do not consider this medication without consulting your OB/GYN first.

Soy effect

Soy may have benefit in terms of brain functioning. In preliminary results, soy and soy isoflavones (nutrients from soy) have shown to potentially improve cognitive function in early menopause, something that hormone therapy is not approved for (Menopause. 2011; 18(7);732-753). This effect is lost on women who are older than 65 when soy is first given. In other words, there is an ideal window for treatment, much like there is with hormone therapy. For more about soy, see my March 8 article.

Soy products have had mixed results in treating vasomotor symptoms. In a recent meta-analysis (a group of 17 studies), soy supplements reduced hot flashes in menopausal women by a modest 21 percent (Menopause. online March 19, 2012). They are thought to have weakly estrogenic effects. When they did occur, hot flashes tended to be milder. The authors suggest that if no results are seen within four weeks, then it is unlikely that soy will affect hot flashes.

The choices are numerous. Lifestyle modifications appear to have the greatest beneficial impact, and the side effects are beneficial for the treatment and prevention of other diseases, as well. Soy may also be of benefit, especially with cognitive aspects. There is really no downside to adopting a nutrient-rich dietary approach.

Hormone therapy is an individual choice that should made in partnership with an OB/GYN. Women should not have to struggle through perimenopausal symptoms negatively impacting their quality of life because they were spooked by past treatment studies.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, go to the website and/or consult your personal physician.

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Glotch studies how water altered Mars’ surface; wife Deanne Rogers studies how Mars’ crust formed

Tim Glotch has his head high above the clouds, but his wife, Deanne Rogers doesn’t mind — she does too. An associate professor in the Geosciences Department at Stony Brook, Glotch met Rogers, an assistant professor in the same department, when they were graduate students at Arizona State University.

After forming a match made in the heavens, the two scientists moved to Selden and started raising a family that includes two preschool children.

Glotch studies rocks and minerals on Mars by examining data from orbiting satellites. He’s interested in how water altered the surface of Mars. Rogers, meanwhile, is trying to understand how the crust of Mars formed.

Recently, Glotch shared good news with his planetary partner. The National Science Foundation awarded him the Faculty Early Career Development Award. The recognition includes a five-year grant for $494,000 that supports his research, allowing him to add a post-doctoral researcher and a graduate student to his lab.

“It’s a fantastically exciting opportunity,” Glotch said. It allows him to delve deeper into the spectroscopy that he has used to study the makeup of minerals on Mars and the moon.

By looking at the surfaces, Glotch tries to piece together how Mars and the moon became what they are. He studies the minerals in inactive volcanoes and at impact craters to come up with models for how these orbiting bodies might have changed over time.

“I’m trying to understand how Mars evolved,” he explained. “How did basaltic rocks (like some of the ones in Hawaii) get there and how did liquid water change their minerals.”

Glotch recently took a trip to Hawaii, where he looked at rocks that have Martian cousins millions of miles away. He expects the interest in Mars to build from now through August, when the rover Curiosity is scheduled to land.

Glotch hopes to submit a paper for publication soon about a Martian volcano called Syrtis Major. It’s called a shield volcano, which means it’s a broad, flat volcano made from basaltic lava.

When he looked at the “squiggly lines” from the spectral data of the volcano, he noticed basaltic rocks and carbonate decomposition products. The carbonates might help explain where the atmosphere Mars might have had billions of years ago has gone.

“The carbonates could sequester a lot of an ancient atmosphere,” he offered. While this is indirect evidence, it’s an exciting step in understanding the history of the Red Planet.
At the same time, Glotch is also studying the moon. As talk of returning to the moon in the next decade builds, Glotch had an unusual companion on his recent trip to Hawaii: astronaut Jeanette Epps. She wanted to see how geologists work in the field and gain an understanding of the kinds of problems planetary geologists and volcanologists address by working in a volcanic terrain.

In recent years, Glotch’s approach to the moon has yielded interesting data.

“When we first looked at the data, we saw these squiggly lines that were fundamentally different than anything else we’d seen on the moon before,” he said. “That was very exciting.”

Those lines were examples of silica rich volcanoes, which are evident in places like Mt. St. Helens. On Earth, they form as a result of plate tectonics. The moon has no such underlying shifting land masses.

Glotch believes basaltic underplating could explain the presence of the silicon dioxide on the moon. In that case, basaltic magma didn’t rise to the surface, but rather melted the crust around it. Because the silicon dioxide was buoyant, it rose to the surface.

The Stony Brook associate professor is developing a workshop for high school science teachers that will allow them to work with lunar data. He recommended a step-wise approach to generate interest in the moon.

“The easiest way to start is to show a picture of a volcano on the moon,” he offered. Teachers can compare those images to volcanoes on Earth. Students who want to know more can look at remote sensing and study images the eye can’t see to understand the composition of rocks and minerals.

As for life in the Glotch home, he said it’s been incredibly valuable to share his passion for his work with his wife, and to lean on her for support. She can commiserate on one of the least glamorous parts of being a scientist: writing and submitting proposals on deadline.

Even with some overlap in their work, looking up into the skies leaves the two scientists with plenty of space to define their own interests.

“There’s so much to do, there’s plenty of room for everybody,” offered Rogers.

Director pulls 15 felines from condemned home, waiting on adoptions to help more in cat colony

Three cats emerge from the bushes at a house in Port Jefferson after Save-A-Pet volunteers put out food Monday for the numerous cats living on the property. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Erica Kutzing has already pulled 15 cats from a condemned house and its surrounding property on Oakwood Road in Port Jefferson, but she said there are between 20 and 25 more left.

“And that’s of the ones that we can see.”

There could be more hiding — the property has a lot of foliage and the house is a mess. There are flies and cobwebs all over the junk inside, the ceiling is coming down in some places and there is a strong smell, partly of cat urine.

Dori Scofield nets an injured gray kitten, and Frankie Floridia and Erica Kutzing help her put it into a crate. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Dori Scofield nets an injured gray kitten, and Frankie Floridia and Erica Kutzing help her put it into a crate. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Kutzing, director of operations at Save-A-Pet Animal Rescue and Adoption Center in Port Jefferson Station, would like to continue taking the friendly cats back with her to the shelter, but it is full. Her operation on Oakwood Road is partly on hold until some people start adopting the animals and free up space. Until then, with the permission of the owner, she visits the site every day to deliver food and clean water, and to help the cats that need it the most.

The first day she brought food to the house, she said, “they swarmed us,” and the cats tried to chew through the bags of food. “They were starving.” In the roughly three weeks since she started feeding them — with donations from the community — she estimates they’ve each gained about five pounds.

On Monday, Kutzing brought the usual five cans of wet food and full bag of cat food to Oakwood Road. A couple of cats watched as she cleaned aluminum trays filled with muddy rainwater from a storm the night before and replaced the dirty water with the food, with the help of volunteers Frankie Floridia and his son Dylan Inghilleri. Then other felines started to emerge from bushes and windows and below a dumpster on the front lawn.

Cats eat at a house in Port Jefferson after Save-A-Pet volunteers put out food. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Cats eat at a house in Port Jefferson after Save-A-Pet volunteers put out food. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Most of the animals, Kutzing said, are the property owner’s pets. While he loves them and his pet ownership started with the best intentions, “cats can breed faster than you can stop them.” Some of those still at the house are friendly, but they have become wild because of their living situation.

The Port Times Record reported in November that there once also were four Alaskan huskies on the property, but they were removed when firefighters investigating smoke found unsafe conditions inside the house. That’s when it was condemned.

According to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, four misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty are still pending against the owner.

Dori Scofield, director of the Town of Brookhaven Animal Shelter and Adoption Center and founder and president of Save-A-Pet, said there are many houses like this all over the town and the country, where people have good intentions that “go haywire,” and their properties are overrun with animals. “They get in over their heads.”

Scofield was the one who first received a call, in her role with the town, about the house and went to investigate.

She was also at the site Monday, and netted a 6-month-old gray kitten that Kutzing said had a broken tail and possibly a broken pelvis.

A female kitten at a house in Port Jefferson named Pinot came out to see rescue volunteers, who visit the property every day. Photo by Elana Glowatz
A female kitten at a house in Port Jefferson named Pinot came out to see rescue volunteers, who visit the property every day. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Kutzing explained that it was painful for the kitten to walk and “with every step her lower end drops to the floor.” She added when the kitten eats her daily deliveries, usually she will lie down in the aluminum tray.

Monday, the cat ate from outside the tray, but she sneezed multiple times throughout her meal. Kutzing explained that the kitten also has an upper respiratory infection.

After Scofield quickly threw the net over the gray kitten, Kutzing and Floridia helped her put the kitten into a carrier to take back to Save-A-Pet for treatment. Afterward, she will likely be released back at the house.

Scofield said she didn’t want to see the cats stay at the condemned house permanently, and it would be ideal for someone with a barn to take in the feral cats.

Kutzing stressed the need for adoptions and that the cats at Save-A-Pet that had been pulled from the Oakwood Road house have been medically cleared and are good with other cats “because it’s all they know.” The organization needs homes for both the young cats and the older ones, she said, adding that older cats can be positive because they know how to use a litter box and owners will already know the cats’ personalities.

Scofield also stressed that people who find themselves with a large number of animals “shouldn’t be afraid to reach out for help,” either from Save-A-Pet or Brookhaven Animal Shelter. “We’ll do whatever we can to help them.”

Kutzing urged against concerned residents visiting the Oakwood Road property on their own. She said it would be trespassing and she doesn’t want anyone “to hinder our trapping by scaring the cats,” because they are now comfortable around the volunteers.

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Supplements of iron and calcium may increase risk

Glaucoma is the second-leading cause of blindness in the world, behind cataracts. It is neurodegenerative (deterioration of the optic nerve) with increased intraocular pressure (IOP) — pressure inside the eye — as an indicator that nerve damage is more likely. The most common types of glaucoma are open angle and angle closure, with the majority of cases in the United States being the former.

Glaucoma initially causes peripheral vision loss and then works its way inward to the central vision. If untreated, it can lead to irreversible blindness (Lancet. 2004;363(9422):1711). Fortunately, there are treatments that revolve around reducing eye pressure, such as prostaglandins and beta blockers.
The occurrence of this disease is rising, with a current 2.8 million Americans affected and a predicted level of 3.4 million in the U.S. by 2020.

Risk factors include age — starting at 40, although those over 65 have higher risk and those over 80 have the highest risk — and race, with African-Americans at a three-times higher risk than those of European ancestry. For African-Americans, it is the No. 1 cause of blindness. In the Baltimore Eye Survey, a family history of the disease dramatically increased risk, with siblings having greater probability than offspring of developing the disease (Arch Ophthalmol. 1994;112(1):69). Finally, the higher the IOP, the greater the risk for progression in open-angle glaucoma (Ophthalmology. 2007;114(10):1810).

The effect of increased visual field-testing

In the Advanced Glaucoma Intervention Study, it was found that visual field-testing by an ophthalmologist every six months for patients at higher risk was better at predicting disease progression than annual testing (Arch Ophthalmol. 2011;129(12):1521-1527). The result was that, with more frequent testing, the researchers were 50 percent more likely to detect progression of the disease, if it were to occur.
Interestingly, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force currently does not recommend screening for open-angle glaucoma, since it feels there is insufficient evidence (Ann Fam Med. 2005;3(2):171). Whether it updates the results based on this study, only time will tell. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends screening every three to five years starting at age 40, with increased frequency — every one to two years — starting at age 60. More frequent screening is recommended for those younger than 60 who have more risk factors (AAO Pub 1996).

Prevention steps

There are several steps that may be valuable, including reducing chronic diseases associated with glaucoma such as type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and erectile dysfunction. If we reduce their incidence, there may also a reciprocal decline in glaucoma.
In addition, avoiding or reducing supplementation with iron and calcium, while potentially increasing magnesium, may decrease incidence of the disease.

Diabetes and high blood pressure

In a analysis of two studies, diabetes increased the risk of open-angle glaucoma by greater than 200 percent (Br J Ophthalmol. 2012;96(6):872-876). In the same analysis, however, systemic hypertension (high blood pressure) increased the risk by a meager 7 percent. This yet another reason we need to control or prevent diabetes, aside from diabetic retinopathy (disease of the back of the eye).

Erectile dysfunction association

Those with erectile dysfunction (had an almost threefold increased risk of also having open-angle glaucoma, compared to those without the disorder (Ophthalmology 2012;119:289-293). There may be vascular symptoms associated with open-angle glaucoma as demonstrated by the increased association with ED. The study suggests that the mechanism of action that both disorders have in common is endothelial dysfunction (inner lining of the blood vessels), which involves a decreased level of nitric oxide, a potent vasodilator, which enables the vessels to expand and relax. ED was also associated with high cholesterol and blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. It is not unusual to find that many diseases have a common underlying pathology. I wrote an article about the impact of ED on Aug. 11, 2011, that gives more detail on the disorder.


In an abstract presented at the American Glaucoma Society, supplementation with calcium and iron, looked at separately, increase risk of normal-tension glaucoma (NTG), glaucoma without increased pressure (AGS 2012 abstract 22). The calcium and iron came from a variety of sources, including antacids, multivitamins, prescription and nonprescription supplements.

The results showed that participants who took a composite of 800 mg daily of calcium were at an almost 2.5-times increased risk. Those who took 18 mg of iron on a daily basis were at an even higher risk, 3.8 times, of developing the disease. When taken together, iron and calcium increased risk by a resounding 7.2 fold. The study did not look at dietary sources for iron and calcium.

The good news is that a dose of 300 mg of magnesium citrate in patients with NTG showed a benefit in visual field over one month, compared to those who did not take magnesium (Eur J Ophthalmol. 2010;20(1):131-135). Although this was a randomized-controlled trial, it was also very small with only 30 patients.

While there are risk factors — such as family history, age and ethnicity — that can’t be changed, there are a number of modifiable factors as well. Glaucoma may be brought on by factors that are related to those causing systemic diseases. Therefore, it’s important to maintain good health overall to reduce the risk for glaucoma and its irreversible affects.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, go to the website and/or consult your personal physician.

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For Port Jefferson Station tattoo shop, it’s about doing the art the right way

When Ariel Padilla told his parents he was going to open a tattoo shop, they gave him two years to succeed. If he didn’t, he would go back to school and finish his master’s degree in forensic technology.

“In my heart I knew I wasn’t going to fail,” Padilla said.

His heart was right. More than 15 years have passed since he opened his first tattoo parlor in Ozone Park, Queens. Today, Dark Child Tattoo is located about two miles from his high school.

After graduating from Port Jefferson’s Earl L. Vandermeulen High School in 1987, Padilla attended NYIT, where he studied criminal psychology. Artistically inclined, Padilla worked as an airbrush artist at an artist colony in Smithtown. A Long Island tattoo artist told him he was wasting his time and talent and encouraged him to begin tattooing.

Padilla began shadowing tattoo artists in the city and New Jersey, just trying to get in where he could. Most of what he learned was self-taught, which he said was very difficult and something he wouldn’t recommend.

At the time, tattooing wasn’t legal in New York City. In 1961, the city banned the practice after a possible connection between tattooing and a Hepatitis B outbreak. In 1997, the city lifted the ban and began licensing tattoo artists. Padilla said he welcomed the industry regulation.

“Sometimes people look at you … and they think, ‘This is all you had left,’” Padilla said. “No, I had a lot of choices other than this. I chose to be a tattooist because I loved tattooing and the art form it expresses.”

Padilla began working at a tattoo shop and married his wife, Velkys, in 1996. Wanting to be his own boss and having built up a strong client base, he decided to open his own business. The couple compromised — they would move back to Long Island and open a store close to the city.

The shop has moved to numerous locations since. After Ozone Park, a Brentwood location opened, but Padilla moved the business when the area began to change. He set up shop in Uniondale, right around the block from Hofstra University, where his eldest daughter, Caryn, was majoring in Asian Studies and minoring in Japanese. She managed the Uniondale shop while attending school.

“I chose to be a tattooist because I loved tattooing and the art form it expresses.”

Padilla has two other children: Illyana, 15, and Elijah, 12.

Caryn Padilla apprenticed under her father and has been tattooing professionally for six years.

“I started it as a back-up, like as a way to pay for school. … At some point, I fell in love with it,” she said.

Ten years after opening up the first store in Queens, the family opened a second location, in Port Jefferson Station, close to their Miller Place home. While the Uniondale shop was doing well, Padilla closed the location due to the long commute and slowing economy.

Ariel and Caryn Padilla are the only tattoo artists at the Port Jefferson Station store and every employee is a family member. The daughter specializes in tribal tattoos and lettering while the father specializes in fantasy, portraits and full-color works.

“Since I am family, he is hard on me, but I appreciate it because it has helped me grow into a better artist,” Caryn Padilla said about her father.

He also isn’t scared to tell clients that what they think will work, won’t. Deanna Cammarata, a 20-year-old from Holbrook, came in wanting a butterfly on her lower ankle. Padilla sat down with her to explain it couldn’t be so small or the details would be lost. Cammarata’s boyfriend, Jim Fritz, a 27-year-old from Farmingville, heard about the store through a friend.

“I have many, many clients who want me to do it their way … but that doesn’t mean it’s the right way,” Padilla said. “The right way is more important to me. Perfection.”

Gina Daleo, whose family owns Chandler Square Ice Cream in Port Jefferson, has known Ariel Padilla since she was a teenager. He has completed pieces for her and her family. Her daughter, Dominique Godsmark, has a portrait of her late grandfather, Anthony Daleo, tattooed on her shoulder and a fox intertwined with flowers on her side.

“He’s a wonderful man,” Daleo said.

It has been very busy at Dark Child Tattoo, with the waiting room full of new and old customers. Dark Child will be heading to Long Island’s first tattoo convention in a decade at the end of July. The convention will be held at Nassau Coliseum.

“We’re just not a biker tattoo shop,” Velkys Padilla said. “[We want] customers coming back to get something that will represent them for the rest of their lives.”

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Physicists from SBU and BNL comment on finding the ‘missing link’ between theory and reality

A quest over 40 years in the making finally ended recently, as physicists announced they had found a subatomic (read: extremely tiny) particle that had become the missing link between the theory and reality of the origins of mass in the universe.

Billions of years ago, the universe was filled with energy, but not mass. That meant there were plenty of particles racing around, through and past each other, but none of them had the kind of mass that would allow them to become planets, beds or hot fudge sundaes.

In 1964, a group of physicists, led by Peter Higgs, suggested there was an energy field that gave some particles mass, albeit for the briefest of time. Physicists have been slamming highly charged particles into each other, hoping to find this elusive Higgs boson particle.

With the words, “I think we have it,” Rolf-Dieter Heuer, the director-general for the European Organization for Nuclear Research, suggested they’d found what was like looking for the dissolving pieces of a needle in a hay field.

While it’s not exactly as poetic as Neil Armstrong’s “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” the words heralding the discovery of the so-called “God particle” have generated considerable excitement in the world of science in general and physicists in particular.

Stony Brook physics professor John Hobbs and Brookhaven National Laboratory senior physicist Howard Gordon were watching from their home computers in the early morning hours of July 4 when the official announcement arrived.

When the audience at the CERN Particle Physics Centre near Geneva erupted in applause as scientists described the result as five sigma (a threshold for statistical significance — the equivalent of a mathematical reality test), “I got a tear in my eye,” recalled Gordon.
“I was very satisfied,” explained Hobbs. “This has been the pursuit of many people for a long time.”

The Higgs boson theory, which five other physicists proposed along with Higgs, suggested energy passed through a Higgs field, attracting other particles along the way. Some scientists describe this field as being like molasses that sticks to the particle or like a snowball rolling down a hill, attracting other pieces of snow.

After that particle obtained mass, it quickly reverted to a state of energy, giving it mass for only a short time. To find the so-called Higgs boson particle, scientists needed to look for decaying pieces of it and then put those back together.

“Any time you have a massive particle of any sort, unless there are things which prevent its decaying, it will naturally do so,” explained Hobbs. “In the case of Higgs boson, there are many ways it can decay.”

One of the challenges of finding the Higgs boson particle was that its mass could be in a broad range.

“Previous experiments had ruled out Higgs below 114 GeV (gigaelectronvolts),” explained Gordon, but it could still be anywhere higher than that, up to 600 GeV or more.

Results from CERN found that the elusive particle was at a mass close to 125 GeV.

So, after all these years of searching for something scientists had predicted would be there, does this change the world?
Scientists suggest the answer is: no and yes. It doesn’t affect the cost of gas, speed up a slow Internet connection or lower the unemployment rate — at least, not yet.

Like other basic research, however, it does provide an answer to questions about the universe.

“We have now validated what we think about how the basic building blocks of matter got their mass,” said Barbara Jacak, a distinguished professor of physics at Stony Brook and member of the National Academy of Sciences. “I don’t know how that’s going to affect our daily life, but I suspect it will. If you think about earlier discoveries in physics that seemed basic, people figured out how to build smaller [electronic] devices. I’d be willing to bet this will end up driving new technology somewhere.”

Even before it does, however, it is likely to lead to a whole new set of fundamental questions, including about such things as dark matter, which comprises over three-quarters of the universe.

“We’ll use this to address another set of questions,” explained Hobbs. As such, it’s both “an end and a beginning at the same time. It is not the end of the questions by any means. It is a very significant waypoint along the route.”

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Supplements may help, depending on the joint affected

Osteoarthritis (or OA) affects half of those over 60, significantly impacting quality of life for 27 million Americans. Historically, the disorder was thought to be solely a wear-and-tear degeneration of the joint(s). However, OA also involves inflammation with the release of cytokines and prostaglandins — inflammatory factors — which cause joint destruction and pain (Rheumatology. 2011;50(12):2157-2165).

The joints most commonly affected include the ankle, knee, hip, spine and hand. OA may affect joints asymmetrically, meaning that it affects a joint on only one side of the body.

One of the mainstays of treatment includes analgesics (painkillers), including acetaminophen and NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen sodium (Aleve) and COX-2 inhibitors (Celebrex). These drugs may also improve joint mobility and NSAIDs have anti-inflammatory effects. There are adverse effects with NSAIDs, including increased gastrointestinal (or GI) bleed and, with long-term use, an increase in cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks, with the elderly being most susceptible. With chronic NSAID use, PPIs (acid-blocking drugs) may be appropriate to avoid GI tract complications (BMC Family Practice 2012;13:23).

Neither medication type, however, structurally modifies the joints. In other words, they may not slow OA’s progression nor rebuild cartilage or the joint space as a whole. Are there therapies that can accomplish these feats and, if so, what are they? We will look at hyaluronic acid, glucosamine and chondroitin, and lifestyle modifications such as exercise and weight loss.

Chondroitin sulfate beneficial for hand OA

The results with the use of glucosamine and chondroitin have been mixed, depending on the joints affected. In the FACTS trial, a randomized controlled trial, chondroitin sulfate by itself showed significant improvement in pain and function with OA of the hand (Arthritis Rheum. 2011 Nov;63(11):3383-91). The dose of chondroitin used in the study was 800 mg once a day. The patients, all of whom were symptomatic at the trial’s start, also saw the duration of their morning stiffness shorten.

There was also a modest reduction in structural damage of hand joints, compared to placebo. The benefit was seen with prescription chondroitin sulfate, so over-the-counter supplements may not work the same way. Patients were allowed to use acetaminophen, and there was no change in dose or frequency throughout the trial. An effect was seen within three months.

Crystalline glucosamine sulfate

In knee OA, crystalline glucosamine sulfate showed reduction in pain and improvement in functioning in an RCT (Ther Adv Musculoskel Dis. 2012;4(3):167-180). When assessed by radiologic findings, it also slowed the progression of structural damage to the knee joint. In other words, the therapy may have disease-modifying effects over the long term. The glucosamine formulation may work by inhibiting inflammatory factors such as NF-kB. The trial used 1500 mg of prescription crystalline glucosamine sulfate over a three-year period. Again, it’s not clear whether an over-the-counter supplement works the same way.

Glucosamine and/or chondroitin for knee OA

In a meta-analysis (group of 10 studies), glucosamine, chondroitin or the combination did not show beneficial effects — reduced pain or mobility changes — in patients when compared to placebo (BMJ. 2010;341:c4675). It was not clear whether supplemental or prescription-level therapies were used in each trial — or whether that makes a difference. This study was published prior to the crystalline glucosamine sulfate trial of the knee, discussed above, which did show statistical significance.

There is not much downside to using glucosamine and/or chondroitin for OA patients. However, use caution if taking an anticoagulant (blood thinner) like Coumadin, since glucosamine has anticoagulant effects. Also, those with shellfish allergies should not use glucosamine. If there is no effect within three months, it is unlikely that glucosamine and/or chondroitin are beneficial.

Hyaluronic acid

In a meta-analysis (a group of 89 trials), the risks outweighed the benefit of hyaluronic acid, a drug injected into the joint for the treatment of OA (Ann Intern Med. online June 12, 2012). Viscosupplementation involves a combination of hyaluronic acid types that act as a shock absorber and lubricant for the joints. Some of the studies did show a clinical benefit. However, the authors believe that adverse local events, which occurred in 30 to 50 percent of patients, and serious adverse events, with 14 trials showing a 41 percent increased risk, outweigh the benefits. Since there are mixed results with the trials, it is best to discuss this option with your physician.

Impact of weight loss and exercise

No matter where you look, obesity is involved in many chronic diseases. OA is no exception. Obesity treatment with a weight-loss program actually has potential disease-modifying affects (Ann Rheum Dis. 2012;71(1):26-32). It may prevent cartilage loss in the medial aspect of the knee. The good news is that, even with as little as a 7 percent weight loss in the obese patient, these results were still observed. The average weight loss was nine to 10 pounds. It was a dose-response curve — the greater the weight loss, the thicker the knee cartilage.

There was a separate study done with computer modeling showing that obesity reduces quality of life by 12 percent and that OA has a negative impact on the quality of life by about the same amount. Interestingly, the combination decreases the quality of life by 25 percent (Ann Intern Med. 2011; 154(4):217-26). Losing weight would also reduce the number of knee replacements, according to the study.

According to Dr. David Felson, a rheumatologist at Boston University School of Medicine who commented in The New England Journal of Medicine, there is an inverse relationship between the amount of muscle-strengthening exercise, especially of the quadriceps, and the amount of pain experienced in the knee joint. It is very important to do nonimpact exercises such as leg raises, squats, swimming, bicycling and on elliptical machines.

Fortunately, there are a number of options to prevent, treat and potentially modify the effects of OA. With weight loss in the obese patient, quality of life can dramatically increased. Glucosamine and/or chondroitin may be of benefit, depending on the joints affected. The benefits are potential improvements in pain, mobility and structural-modifying effects, which are worth the risk for many patients. When taking glucosamine and/or chondroitin in supplement form, may be a good source for finding a supplement where you get the dose claimed on the box. I would also use formulations in the trials that showed results, even in supplement form.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, go to and/or consult your personal physician.

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Amid the moving chaos of New York City, Thomas Watson has stopped and watched the steam that rises out of manholes. On one side of the street, the steam drifted one way.

On the other, it headed in the opposite direction.

While the complexity of the wind might seem fitting for a city where people blow in from all over the world, the shifting air currents are much more than a metaphor to the chemist from Brookhaven National Lab. They have become a part of research he — and emergency management personnel in the city — use to understand how gases, particularly toxic or dangerous ones, might move through the street canyons created by buildings of all shapes and sizes.

In 2005, Watson conducted an extensive study of air currents in and around the city. He released perfluorocarbons at different points throughout the area, tracked where the gases went and put together how they might have gotten from one place to another.

This year, he’s starting another similar study. His work, which in 2005 was funded in part by the Department of Homeland Security, is designed to help emergency management crews in the city deal with an accidental release of gases that might pose a threat to public safety. The city also uses his research in the event of the intentional release of harmful substances.

“The research we do supports emergency response decision making,” said Watson.

Watson leads a unit at BNL called the Tracer Technology Group. They release harmless gases to see how different elements travel under a broad range of meteorological conditions.

The gases, called perfluorocarbons, are “totally nonreactive” and can be detected at incredibly low levels: parts per quadrillion.
Tracer gases are sometimes used across much larger areas than a metropolitan region as well.

“We can get an idea of how air is moving across the continent,” he suggested.
In the Across North America Tracer Experiment (Anatex) in the late 1980s, for example, gases released from Glasgow, Montana and St. Cloud, Minn., could be seen on the East Coast.

The science of tracking air movements using tracer compounds as they move across different terrains started about 30 years ago, Watson recalled, as part of a comprehensive safety plan amid the development of nuclear power plants. While a release from a plant is unlikely, “prudence dictates we should be able to predict where a release would go,” Watson offered.

Watson also studies indoor air quality, looking at infiltration rates into buildings. The ventilation systems of large buildings, he explained, often bring outside air into the system at a measured rate.

This work not only has implications for safety and public health, but also for energy efficiency, as buildings can use the data he collects to figure out whether more outside air than anticipated is entering the building. On a particularly hot or cold day, the introduction of outside air could raise heating or cooling costs.

Watson has also been involved in finding leaks in underground systems for utility companies. In some of the subterranean systems, power companies have underground wires that are surrounded by oil, which helps insulate and provide some cooling. When the oil leaks, it’s difficult to find. Enter perfluorocarbons.

“We ride around in a van and can find [the perfluorocarbons],” he described. By tracking the gases, “we can come within a couple of feet of the leak.”

The alternative to using the tracer chemicals is to freeze the line and see where the pressure drops. The freeze method sometimes requires digging several holes before finding the leak.

Tracer gases are also “important for climate work,” Watson offered. He looks at the exchange between the biosphere and the atmosphere. He validates transport models used to help interpret carbon dioxide exchange measurements.
When Watson, who lives in Ridge with his wife Phyllis, isn’t tracking gases through the air or underground, he enjoys spin casting for striped bass. He said he usually keeps one a season.

Although he grew up in Delaware and was a Phillies fan, he has seen the error of his ways and, after seven years on Long Island, has seen his allegiance drift to the Mets.

As for his work, Watson is convinced he’s doing something important and that he needs to provide the best possible information to emergency personnel.

“No scientific data is ever exact to an infinite number of decimal places,” he concedes. “We strive to get the best possible information to all our sponsors and always provide uncertainty limits.”

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Vitamin D may reduce risk in skin cancer patients; mixed cardiovascular results

Vitamin D is one the most widely publicized and important supplements. We get vitamin D from the sun, food and supplements. Since summer is now in full swing and the beaches are open, I thought it would be appropriate to share some recent findings.

Vitamin D has been thought of as an elixir for life, but is it really? There is no question that, if you have low levels of vitamin D, repleting (replacing) it is important. Previous studies have shown that vitamin D may be effective in a wide swath of chronic diseases, both in prevention and as part of the treatment paradigm. However, many questions remain. As more data come along, their meaning for vitamin D becomes murkier.

The sun

For instance, is the sun the best method to get Vitamin D?
At the 70th annual American Academy of Dermatology meeting, Dr. Richard Gallo who was involved with the Institute of Medicine recommendations, spoke about how, in most geographies, sun exposure will not correct vitamin D deficiencies. Interestingly, he emphasized getting more vitamin D from nutrition. Dietary sources include cold-water, fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and tuna.

We know its importance for bone health, but as of yet, we only have encouraging — but not yet definitive — data for other diseases. These include cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases and cancer.

There is no consensus on the ideal blood level for vitamin D. The Institute of Medicine recommends more than 20 ng/dl, and The Endocrine Society recommends at least 30 ng/dl. More experts and data lean toward the latter number.

Skin cancer

Vitamin D did not decrease non-melanoma skin cancers (known as NMSCs), such as squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma. It may actually increase them, according to one study done at a single center by an HMO (Arch Dermatol. 2011;147(12):1379-84). The results may be confounded, or blurred, by UV radiation from the sun, so vitamin D is not necessarily the culprit. Most of the surfaces where skin cancer was found were sun exposed, but not all of them.

The good news is that, for postmenopausal women who have already had an NMSC bout, vitamin D plus calcium appears to reduce its recurrence, according to the Women’s Health Initiative study (J Clin Oncol. 2011 Aug 1;29(22):3078-84). In this high-risk population, the combination of supplements reduced risk by 57 percent. Unlike the previous study, vitamin D did not increase the incidence of NMSC in the general population. NMSC occurs more frequently than breast, prostate, lung and colorectal cancer combined (CA Cancer J Clin. 2009;59(4):225-49).

Cardiovascular mixed results

Several observational studies have shown benefits of vitamin D supplements with cardiovascular disease. For example, the Framingham Offspring Study showed that those patients with deficient levels were at increased risk of cardiovascular disease (Circulation. 2008 Jan 29;117(4):503-11).

However, a recent small randomized controlled trial, the gold standard of studies, calls the cardioprotective effects of vitamin D into question (PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e36617). This study of postmenopausal women, using biomarkers, such as endothelial function, inflammation or vascular stiffness, showed no difference between vitamin D treatment and placebo. The authors concluded there is no reason to give vitamin D for prevention of cardiovascular disease.

The vitamin D dose given to the treatment group was 2500 IUs. Thus, one couldn’t argue that this dose was too low. Some of the weaknesses of the study were a very short duration of four months, its size — 114 participants — and the fact that cardiovascular events or deaths were not used as study endpoints. However, these results do make you think.

Weight benefit

There is good news, but not great news, on the weight front. It appears that vitamin D plays a role in reducing the amount of weight gain in women 65 years and older whose blood levels are more than 30 ng/ml, compared to those below this level, in the Study of Osteoporotic Fractures (J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2012 Jun 25).

This association held true at baseline and after 4.5 years of observation. If the women dropped below 30 ng/ml in this time period, they were more likely to gain more weight and they gained less if they kept levels above the target. There were 4,659 participants in the study. Unfortunately, vitamin D did not show statistical significance with weight loss.

Mortality decreased

In a recent meta-analyses (a group of eight studies), vitamin D with calcium reduced the mortality rate in the elderly, whereas vitamin D alone did not (J Clin Endocrinol Metabol. online May 17, 2012). The difference between the groups was statistically important, but clinically small: 9 percent reduction with vitamin D plus calcium and 7 percent with vitamin D alone.

One of the weaknesses of this analysis was that vitamin D in two of the studies was given in large boluses (amounts) of 300,000 to 500,000 IUs once a year, rather than taken daily. This has different effects.

USPSTF recommendations

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends against giving “healthy” postmenopausal women the combination of vitamin D 400 IUs plus calcium 1000 mg to prevent fractures (AHRQ Publication No. 12-05163-EF-2). It does not seem to reduce fractures and increases the risk of kidney stones. There is also not enough data to recommend for or against vitamin D with or without calcium for cancer prevention.

Need for clinical trials

We need clinical trials to determine the effectiveness of vitamin D in many chronic diseases, since it may have beneficial effects in preventing or helping to treat them (Endocr Rev. 2012 Jun;33(3):456-92). Right now, there is a lack of large randomized clinical trials. Most are observational, which gives associations, but not links. The VITAL trial is a large RCT looking at the effects of vitamin D and omega 3s on cardiovascular disease and cancer. It is a five-year trial, and the results should be available in 2016.

When to supplement?

It is important to supplement to optimal levels, especially since most of us living in the Northeast have insufficient to deficient levels. While vitamin D may not be a cure-all, it may play an integral role with many disorders.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, go to and/or consult your personal physician.